The Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) at McGill University released a statement on Tuesday affirming the institution's commitment to academic freedom.
The statement, directed towards "members of the McGill community," Provost Christopher Manfredi wrote that "McGill’s Statement on Academic Freedom has not shifted in its scope or application. This remains true even in the face of several public statements calling upon us to prioritize equity and inclusiveness over academic freedom, or vice versa."
"At McGill, none of these principles supersedes the other," the Provost's statement affirmed. "The pursuit and testing of ideas – even those that are unpopular or unorthodox – must be permitted without hindrance on a campus. Hence, no single idea, argument, word, or work is “prohibited” at McGill."
Manfredi's statement further warned students of "the danger of institutional censure."
The defending of academic freedom from the McGill administration comes amid an open letter signed by the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) and several other campus organizations. The letter alleges that "[scholars] have abused their right of free speech and academic freedom to defend acts of rhetorical violence."
The open letter further derided free speech as a concept of "whiteness," and complained that "McGill University consistently prioritizes the protection of an extreme version of academic freedom over the safety and wellbeing of its students."
"The solution is not and cannot be active listening and dialogue," the disgruntled students wrote.
The open letter from the SSMU also called upon the university to revoke the emeritus status of Dr. Philip Carl Salzman, who they alleged "illustrates the ways in which McGill maintains structures that protect and legitimize racist and Islamophobic dialogues" by prioritizing "academic freedom, rather than the right of Muslims and People of Colour have to feel safe."
The SSMU justified their position on Salzman by citing articles he wrote in two separate publication where he expresses criticism of critical social justice politics. The SSMU claimed that he "[condemns] multiculturalism, immigration, gender parity, cultural equality, social justice, and the Black Lives Matter movement, along with dismissing the existence of rape culture and systemic racism." The SSMU did not provide any direct refutation of any of the arguments he made in his articles.
Manfredi, however, dismissed the demands to revoke the emeritus status of Salzman. "Although 'emeritus' status may be revoked for misconduct, that term refers to misconduct as defined by the regulations and policies that apply to tenure-track and tenured academic staff," the Provost's statement reads. "The exercise of academic freedom or freedom of expression, within the boundaries acknowledged by law, is not misconduct under those regulations and policies."
Salzman also criticized the SSMU's position. "These students appear to believe that they are at McGill not to learn anthropology, but to teach anthropology," the professor told The Post Millennial. "Perhaps this is because anthropology, once a discipline fact- and evidence-based, has been overtaken by ideological moralism, and rather than seeking truth is now in the business of seeking and punishing ideological heretics. I rather doubt that the Holy Inquisition and Mao’s Cultural Revolution are fruitful models for an academic discipline."
Manfredi finished by citing McGill's Mission Statement and Principles, quoting "[in] fulfilling its mission, McGill University embraces the principles of academic freedom, integrity, responsibility, equity, and inclusiveness."
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